Madeloni: Democracy Takes Time, Kids. You Poor Black and Brown Kids Are Just Going to Have to Wait

Massachusetts Teachers Association president Barbara Madeloni has her own convenient version of what a democracy is. And she believes that, in the name of democracy,  parents zoned to chronically under-performing schools just need to wait for better schools and she said exactly that on WBUR’s Radio Boston on October 19, 2015 in an interview with Megna Chakrabarti.

Interviewer: There is a level of lack of empowerment, of chance that a lot of families face all the time. Can you sympathize with those who say, if I can just reach for something which I think might be better for my child I don’t want any limits to how far I can help them reach, and that might mean for me, a parent, that might mean a charter school.

Madeloni: I could certainly sympathize with that as a feeling. But I would ask that person to join us in thinking beyond just your child. We are stronger as a community when we think beyond our circle. When I was a high school English teacher I used to work with my students and I would ask them how big is your circle. How big is the circle of people that you think about and care about as you’re making decisions throughout the course of the day, of your life as you’re imagining your future. I think we are a stronger state a stronger country stronger communities when each of us tries to expand our circle to commit to something bigger than ourselves. That’s what public education means.

Interviewer: I completely get that and I am very, very sympathetic to it but I am also hearing this as a parent and I am hearing for the good of society think beyond the interests of you’re your child. But that’s the primary duty of a parent to think about the best interest of his or her child. How long can people wait.

Madeloni: If we look at history we’ve been able to make significant changes in this country for the good because people thought beyond their immediate circle.

Interviewer: Don’t we have some competing issues here that are just going to be difficult if not impossible to resolve. Because on the one hand, I don’t think many people would want to argue against your call for improving public education overall, for funding it in a way that provides an equal and high quality education to all children, to getting families involved, to reforming testing regimes, etc. But these are all things – lord anyone who’s taken a look at the world of education knows takes time to enact. It’s not going to happen next year; its not going to happen 5 years from now. Systemic change takes time to enact. But on the other hand we have all these parents a couple of whom we’ve just heard from today who say I don’t have time. I’ve got 13 years from kindergarten to the 12th grade to do the best that I can for my children. And I need other options.

Madeloni: And I am…Democracy takes time. Building the kinds of communities that we want take time. Blaine and Toya are going to make their decisions and I will respect those but as a larger community we need to make decisions that are not about those individual needs. The legislators need to think not only about today and tomorrow but about five years from now, about ten years from now, about 20 years from now. As an educator that’s what I need to be thinking about: what’s in front of me and where is this going. We all have that responsibility. So we have to not let a system be created that has the possibility to leave us in five, ten, fifteen years, with no public education. And I promise you, that can happen…At some point we have to just make decisions about that for ourselves. As a community together are we going to be invested in the common good or are we going to be invested in our individual needs. And I’m not saying that’s an easy thing for one person, but I’m not speaking for one person. I’m speaking for how can we look at the world in front of us and the world we want to create. I think it’s very dangerous whether it’s about schools or about mass transit, whatever it’s about, that we become a society where it’s just: well, that’s what I need right now for myself. That’s not a democracy.

Must be nice lecturing low income parents of color about democracy from your perch in North Hampton, Barbara. Regardless of how the Question 2 plays out, you will forever be known for asking poor parents of color to “think beyond your child” but never once asking the same of affluent white parents.

And the parents you’ve asked to wait have already waited far too long in large part, because of people like you.


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